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«Swinging at Topsi»

Free-improv swinging? Yes, but, obviously, given the free spirit of the music, not all the time. But with the Berlin-based trio of legendary Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson, one of the forefathers of European free jazz and free improvisation, located in Berlin since 1968, prolific double bass player Joel Grip, who has collaborated before with Johansson (in a trio with pianist Sten Sandell, «Abstract Beauty» (SÅJ, 2020), in the Neuköllner Modelle trio with sax player Bertrand Denzler, «Sektion 1-2» (Umlaut, 2016), and with clarinetist Rüdiger Carl, «In Early November» (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2019), founder of the Umlaut label and known from his bands اسم [ism], أحمد [ahmed] with British pianist Pat Thomas [Ahmed], and young fellow-Swedish guitarist Niklas Fite, who collaborated before with another great Swedish drummer, Raymond Strid, and in a lot of Copenhagen/Berlin projects. The trio was recorded live at the au Topsi Pohl venue in Berlin, where Grip organizes weekly series of music, in September 2020. The album is released as a limited first edition of 200 copies on smoke-tinted cassette shells plus a download option.

«Swinging at Topsi» features two full free improvised sets as well as two absolutely swinging and beautiful songs. The album presents first the two extended improvisations. Both improvisations are energetic and intense ones, where Johansson, Grip and Nite immediately establish tense dynamics. Fite, only 25 years old at the time of the recording, sounds at home with the mighty Johnasson, 77 years old at the time, and Grip, and his playing clearly pays respects to the seminal British free improv pioneers John Russel and Derek Bailey. Often Fite anchors the powerful interplay with rhythmic and melodic ideas, while Johansson and Grip expand Fite’s ideas in totally intuitive and playful conversations, all stressing their deep, free-flowing interplay and immediate affinity.

Each free improvised set was concluded with surprising songs, with Johansson as the soloist with his rough-hewn vocals and passionate yet amusing delivery. Richard Rogers-Lorenz Hart standard «Isn’t It Romantic», with Fite beautiful solo and the swinging rhythm section of Grip and Johansson, highlights the one-of-kind musical personality of Johansson, a gifted actor with impeccable sense of drama and timing. The audience was clearly pleased by this song and Johnny Green-Edward Heyman «Out of Nowhere», judging by the laughter sounds.

Eyal Hareuveni 

Sven-Åke Johansson (dr, v), Niklas Fite (g), Joel Grip (b)


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